HC Deb 12 December 1977 vol 941 cc115-72

Considered in Committee [Progress, 1st December.]

[Mr. Oscar Murton in the Chair]

7.15 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. You, in common with a number of your predecessors, have customarily met the convenience of the Committee by intimating before the commencement of a sitting which of the amendments on the Amendment Paper you had provisionally selected. I am sure I am right in saying that this has been found to be of almost universal help. However, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there has been no list of your provisional selection of amendments available in the "No" Lobby or elsewhere. Therefore, I wondered whether you would indicate to the Committee, if that is the case, the reasons for the departure from custom.

It will be observed from the marshalling of the Amendment Paper that you have been prophetically moved to conclude that the motion standing in the name of the Home Secretary may meet with the approval of the Committee. I think that it might be helpful to hon. Members, as under you it so often is, if they were made aware that the absence of a list of your provisional selection of amendments is an indication that some similar prophetic breath has conveyed to you that a motion to report Progress might be moved immediately after the motion in the name of the Home Secretary has been disposed of.

I hope that you will not feel it impertinent that this inquiry, which I am sure is in the minds of many hon. Members, should be addressed to you.

The Chairman

It is always extremely dangerous for the Chair to prophesy, but the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is correct. When the Committee reaches the Secretary of State's motion, I suggest that we see how we proceed as a result of it. Thereafter there are contingencies, again prophesied, which I hope will meet the convenience of the Committee, whatever decision may be reached on the motion.

Before the Committee begins its deliberations, I should like to make a statement which refers specifically to something that happened on 1st December relating to the resumption of debate in Committee and who has the Floor.

Hon. Members will recall that on Thursday 1st December, when the Committee resumed after the interruption at 10 o'clock to dispose of the business motion, I ruled that a Member who was speaking at the time when proceedings in Committee were interrupted did not have an automatic right to be called when the proceedings were resumed.

In so ruling I was relying upon my knowledge of the practice, which is nowhere stated in general terms in the text of "Erskine May". If, however, hon. Members will look at the passage on page 610 of the current edition of "Erskine May", which deals with the reporting of resolutions from Committee of the whole House, it will be seen that there are certain circumstances in which it is stated to be the case that a Member cannot claim to speak first on the renewal of a debate in Committee, on the ground that he was in possession of the Committee when the chairman reported progress. While the later references in footnote (h) appended to this passage are specifically related to the particular circumstances to which the text refers, the earlier ones are of more general application. The ruling of 1915, in particular, lays stress, as I did, on the right of a Member to speak more than once in Committee. I think I should also reaffirm that when the Member in charge of a Bill rises to speak and he can properly be called, it is the usual practice of the Chair to call him.

Having said that, however, I cannot but fail to give considerable weight to the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Down, South at cols. 853 and 854 that it is unlikely that this practice has ever before been applied when a Committee has been resumed after a formal interruption at 10 o'clock. I certainly know of no such instance. One is always, I hope, ready to learn from experience. If such a circumstance were to arise again, I should be most strongly inclined to give precedence to the hon. Member who was speaking at the moment of interruption.

Mr. Powell

On that point of order, Mr. Murton, as one of the hon. Members who raised the matter of order with you at the last sitting of the Committee, I should like to thank you for the action that you have taken in giving the matter your careful consideration and giving guidance to the Committee in the form of a considered statement.

Perhaps I may, without presuming to suggest that a ruling of the chair could be other than valid and authoritative, say that your ruling accords with what, at any rate, we younger Members thought was the prevailing practice. Since in the nature of things it is not uncommon, when we are in Committee of the whole House, for a Committee stage to be interrupted at 10 o'clock for the business motion in the middle of an hon. Member's speech, it appears that your ruling will generally be to the convenience and satisfaction of hon. Members.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

On that point of order, Mr. Murton. As I, too, was involved in the incident to which you have referred, perhaps I may add my thanks to those which have been expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I speak, as he said that he did, on behalf of the younger Members of the Committee. I offer sincere thanks to you, Mr. Murton, for having given further consideration to this matter and for the ruling that you have been kind enough to give.

The Chairman

I am greatly obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On another point of order, Mr. Murton. On 1st December you were very helpful to hon. Members by giving certain reasons why particular amendments were not in order. In particular, you referred to the scope of the Bill. The current edition of "Erskine May" goes into this matter on page 521, and in particular refers to the precedents in footnote (e). I believe that there are 19 precedents this century for certain amendments being ruled out of order. Hon. Members may be interested to know that in 1914 Mr. Keir Hardie tried to move an amendment to the Army Bill to exclude the Army acting in industrial disputes. That was said to be beyond the scope of the Bill.

Another hon. Member tried to move an amendment to exclude the Crown Agents from bidding for harbour contracts in East Africa, and that was ruled out of order. That was an uncanny lack of foresight into future difficulties.

That is the point of order that I wish to raise. In looking at those precedents, I can find no Bill which created a new statutory person—in this instance a Member of the Assembly of the European Communities. I put it to you, Mr. Murton, perhaps for future guidance for those of us who wish to table amendments on other occasions or on Report, that when the Bill specifically creates a new statutory person, and when we are told that it is beyond the scope of the Bill to add duties, obligations, and requirements of that new statutory person, it calls into question whether the precedents in footnote (e) cover future amendments to the Bill. I hope that you will be able to help the Committee on the question of new amendments which come within the scope of the Bill.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was kind enough to give me notice of the matter that he has raised, and I have carefully considered it.

I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman in his contention that the Bill has the effect of creating a new category of statutory individual. It certainly does not create the European Assembly, which is one of the organs of the EEC Treaty of which statutory notice was taken in the European Communities Act 1972. Such an Assembly cannot exist without a membership, however those Members may be designated.

The sole effect of the Bill—in other words, the scope of the Bill—is to provide a new and elective method of appointing those Members. I have, I hope, already made it clear that, in my view, disqualification is an essential part of the elective process and that this can be incurred after election as well as before, as indeed the Bill provides. Ishall have this fact well in mind when considering any amendments which might be offered.

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